According to a study, if you are a "night owl", or like to stay up late and have trouble dragging yourself out of bed in the morning, you are at a higher risk of dying sooner than morning "larks", people who have a natural preference for going to bed early and rising with the Sun. After taking into account certain factors like age, sex, smoking status, body mass index, and ethnicity, the researchers found that 10% of the people who identified as "definite evening types" had a higher risk of early death.
Sorry night owls, we have bad news for you.
"What we think might be happening is, there's a problem for the night owl who's trying to live in the morning lark world", Knutson said.
"This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored", said study co-author Malcolm van Schantz of the University of Surrey - and argued that "night types" should be allowed to start and finish work later in the day.
The study was published April 12 in the journal Chronobiology International.
The participants had defined themselves as either "definitely a morning person" (27 percent), "more a morning person than evening person" (35 percent), "more an evening than a morning person" (28 percent), or "definitely an evening person" (nine percent).
It's unclear why night owls are more likely to die than the early risers in this period - and the study only established a correlation between the two, not cause and effect.
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Researchers studied 433,268 people, aged 38 to 73, who defined themselves as either "definite morning" types, "moderate morning" types, "moderate evening" types or "definite evening" types.
Professor Knutson said that we are not "doomed" by our biology as even if we are a definite night owl or early bird, there are things that we can change to benefit our health, such as getting more flexibile working hours.
There could be physiological consequences to having a sleep schedule that doesn't match your internal clock, the researchers said.
Previous studies in this field have focused on the higher rates of metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular disease, but this is the first to look at mortality risk.
"This is just one piece of the puzzle", said Jamie Zeitzer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences (sleep medicine) at the Stanford School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. The results showed that by the end of 6 ½ years, the definite evening types were about 10 percent more likely to have died than the definite morning types, Knutson said.
In the future, the researchers say they hope to test an "intervention with owls" to see if this group can successfully shift their body clocks to an earlier schedule.
"If we can recognize these chronotypes are‚ in part‚ genetically determined and not just a character flaw‚ jobs and work hours could have more flexibility for owls‚" she said. "It could be psychological stress, eating at the wrong time for their body, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, being awake at night by yourself, maybe drug or alcohol use".